Sunday, 10 October 2010

September 13th - The road to Erg Chebbi

None of us were particularly objective of leaving Fés without exploring further. To be honest, last nights experience had left a slightly bitter after taste, and with the dunes at Merzouga calling, we decided to hit the bitumen, and make haste for the desert.

Now the upside of our overpriced accommodation, was the convenience of it lying alongside the R503, the road that would take us to Sefrou, then to Boulemane, and onwards to Midelt.

We lit out of camp at around 7:30, refuelled and took on water at a nearby Afriqué station, and hit the road. The weather was superb, and spirits were high. I put some miles between myself and the others, as I needed some "me time".
I had enjoyed our time riding together so far, but wanted to ride without checking my mirrors for a while, and needed to feel as if I was the only soul on the road.

I made good ground through some great scenery, and pulled up just short of Sefrou, to take some pictures, and enjoy my quiet surroundings.
Soon enough, the rest of Team Moto Maroc came shooting past, leaving me once more to roll yet another cigarette, and take some more pictures, the stillness of the morning broken only by a local truck rumbling out of the fields next to me.
As it rolled slowly past, I was greeted by waving hands, and a warm smile. It made me wonder if I would do the same if the roles were reversed, and thought probably not.
How humbling, clearly many of the people here lived in poverty, and yet showed no bitterness at seeing travellers like us, obviously better off.
I was to take a few similar lessons home with me.

Cigarette smoked, and the obligatory posed picture of me and the Grand Wazoo taken, I had the wheels turning towards Sefrou once more.
I thought I'd let sufficient time lapse between myself and the rest of the bunch to be assured of another solitary ride, but it wasn't long before I came across Shad and Alan at the roadside, Shad examining his destroyed camera, which he'd dropped whilst filming as he rode.
We pushed on with the ride, finding some beautiful mountain passes, (Massif du Kandar), on the way to Boulemane.
South side of Boulemane, the road between Aít Kermouss and the N13 at Boulojoul is nearly as straight as an arrow. It was beautifull, We'd unwittingly passed Shad and Alan outside Boulemane while they were photo-shooting next to a lake, and seeing this straight road disappearing into nothingness, reminded me of the Karroo roads found back in South Africa, so I cracked the throttle a wee bit, and distanced myself from Jason and Darren, eager to feel alone in this wilderness.

The road was wide enough for a large vehicle only, sand blown and straight as an arrow, I took a chance and blew down the center at 120 kilometers per hour, the sun scorching down on me I now felt like I was in the "real" Morocco, there was no-one in sight, no traffic, no buildings, nothing, it was exhilarating.
I reckon it was a good 50 miles of straight road, broken only by a little town called Taouerda, about halfway down. Before Taouerda, I stopped to capture the isolation on film, and was joined not long afterwards, and a little further down the road, by the others.
We all decided on a smoke break and further photo shoot. Shad abandoned his helmet for a camera shot over a washed out section of road.
It was a great place to stop, beautiful scenery, broken only now by the rumble of a rather large coach bus approaching us from behind...
Bugger, a scramble for the bikes to getaway ahead of it, as the road was too narrow for overtaking.

Shad, Alan, and Darren make it. Jason and Me, halfway through smoking admit defeat, and wait for the coach to pass, finishing cigs, and hoping for a passing place further ahead.
We easily catch the coach, but alas, no passing place. The coach maintains speed, I guess it must have been around 35 mph, the driver waves for me to overtake... on the gravel? oh well nothing ventured...
The gravel turns to mud before I draw level with the coach, and at that speed, the old girl is violently snaking about, the weight of the panniers accenting the rumba the Grand Wazoo is now performing alongside the coach, nothing for it but to grit teeth, and open the throttle even more. It works, and the big bird and me sail past the coach, shaking our tail feathers as we shoot past.
Jason makes it as well, although I cannot testify as to with what degree of finesse, as I was too preoccupied at the time to take notice. Further up the road we find Darren, who'd dropped the GSA in the mud, helped to right it, the locals soon muck in, and he's underway again, with no damage bar dented pride.

Up ahead, Jason and Myself through Taouerde slowly, as there is a seriously flooded section of road ahead, and the road is not in such great condition either.
In the middle of the flood, sits a boy on a bicycle, Jason is ahead of me, seeing the boy point to the right of him, Jason goes to the left, only for me to see his bike disappear into a pothole, he manages to stay upright, I however, take the kids direction, and riding the pegs, pass to the left of him... no potholes.

Midelt, and the scruffy hawkers.

We join Alan and Shad at the N13, and all five of us breeze into Midelt 20 minutes later, It's hot, we're hungry, and the bikes need fuel.
We fuel up, and discuss a lunch break here. Alan has seen a spares shop of sorts, and needs to find an HT lead, and that elusive plug spanner. We agree to meet at a cafe around the corner, as Shad had spotted someone selling grilled chickens, and wanted a whole one. He wanted a beer too, but that wasn't going to happen.

As it turned out, by the time we had got our arses into gear, there were no more chickens left, Daz had been sidetracked at the petrol station by locals selling fossils, and had bought several, I was having none of it, and the wallet and myself remained together, firmly.
Anyway, chickens, yes, sold out....
We headed further down the road, settling on a place at the end of the street next to an Axa insurance branch, where Jason did the honest thing and sorted out his Moroccan travel insurance, some of us were however not as morally scrupulous, and decided to wing it instead, hoping we didn't end up knocking some local over somewhere.

Lunch was awful, the worst brochettes we'd had so far, covered in flies, and just unappealing. Alan's bike was being seen to by a local mechanic, so we had time to hang around for a while.
Of all the places I visited in Morocco, Midelt was the worse for street hawkers. They were pests, and clearly didn't recognise the words "No".
I wouldn't have minded if they were selling anything nice, but they were grubby, and the stuff they were selling was cheap tat, and boy, did they try the hard sell, so much so, that when that didn't work, one tried sending me on a guilt trip by telling me that I had a "rich wallet, but a poor heart".
At that point, I could have said something about his grubby look, and cheap wares, or even biffed him on the nose, however, I bit my tongue, and went back to sleep on the road, next to the Grand Wazoo.

Hooray, Alan gets a custom made plug spanner, and a couple of HT leads, and we get underway. All for the princely sum of 40 dirhams, plus whatever we thought the mechanics labour was worth. Alan gave him 340 dirhams, as the guy was clearly one of the more genuine locals, and he had spent two hours labouring over the bike, and offered his advice on piste rides along the route.
We were soon beating a path closer to the desert.

After losing several hours in Midelt, we reckoned on riding for another couple of hours before looking for a campsite, thereby avoiding the mess that was Fes last night. We headed for Er-Rachidia, and a chance stop at the side of the road, just before hitting the Gorge Du Ziz, saw us sitting next to the Jurassic Campsite, and non other than the owner was outside, as if expecting us.
He seemed friendly enough, and claimed to be the cheapest in Morocco, we played the "old hand at Morocco" card, and secured the site for a measly 150 dirhams for all of us, a far cry from our 450 mugging last night in Fes.
We pulled in, and set up camp, ordering an in house meal for 8pm that night.

The Grand Wazoo goes down.

It was nice to set up early for a change, especially while it was still light.
By this time, the side stand of my bike was peeling away from the frame at an alarming angle, so it was center stand only, or several large rocks under the side.
The old girl was on the center stand while she was being unloaded, and as I relieved her of some of the gear, and turned my back on her, and came crashing down behind me, as if in protest it would seem.

Shad, seizing any opportunity to get behind the camera lens, clambered on her as she lay resting, and posed in his indomitable style. Bless the guys though, I'd hurt my back yesterday, and trapped a nerve, so they got the big bird back on her legs again for me, whilst I played the wounded soldier.

We had plenty of time to relax before the evening meal, which would be one of the best I would have whilst in Morocco. We brewed tea, showered, smoked, washed clothes, and relaxed before heading up to the restaurant. The place was amazing, it was more like a traditional home environment, several tajines of meat, chicken, and vegetables were served, along with plenty of unleavened bread, finished with melon and yogurt, a truly sumptuous feast, washed down with plenty of coke as always.

Jason and myself shared a brew and a smoke together before calling time for the night.
As it stands, we're in range of Merzouga, and should hit the dunes by at least lunch tomorrow, we'll see...

Pink Floyd's' division bell plays as I drift off... A good day for all of us.

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